I have been a self-proclaimed “runner” for over twenty years now. In high school, I ran track, and did the middle distance events, from the 300m hurdles up to the 1600m run. But once I was done with that season of life, I settled into longer distance running. I began running as my main (and sometimes only) form of exercise and entering a couple races each year, ranging from 5ks to half marathons. Other than the occasional long runs when training for half marathons, I ran one speed (slow enough to read a magazine propped on my treadmill), always flat (hills hurt, right?!), and almost always somewhere between three and five miles. I enjoyed running, but was very concerned with keeping it easy.
Last spring, I was introduced to the “tempo run.” The purpose of a tempo run is to challenge yourself to run a challenging, but sustainable pace for a prolonged distance (longer than interval running). The idea is to increase your lactic threshold by running at a pace where you are close to switching from aerobic to anaerobic activity, but without going past that point. When we cross the lactic threshold, or go into anaerobic exercise, our muscles fatigue quickly and we are unable to continue at that pace. But the lactic threshold can be increased by exercising right below it, and pushing that limit without crossing it. In simple terms, this is how we improve our sustainable pace.
To give an example, when I first started doing this, it was challenging to sustain a 7:30 min./mile pace for 3 miles. But this morning, I was able to go 5 miles at a 7:10 min./mile pace. My body has adapted and the point where I switch from aerobic to anaerobic activity, that point where I will quickly fatigue and have to quit, has actually moved.
So this isn’t really a post about tempo running or lactate thresholds. It is actually about life, and how the way I think about the “busy-ness” or “full-ness” of my life is changing not only my ability to accomplish goals and create the life I want, but also the joy I have each day.
For many years, I have felt a lot of overwhelm and frustration. Sure, I would describe myself as a happy person, but it seemed that every day, I was simply chasing something that I could never quite catch. I had viewed the many responsibilities in my life as being imposed upon me, and as a barrier between where I was and the life I thought I wanted. I had developed an idea that the “ideal day” would consist of an empty to-do list, with total freedom to just relax and enjoy life, as if enjoying life can only be achieved in the absence of work or responsibility. But it seemed that every time I checked something off the list, two things were added. This chasing of the end of the list seemed to consume me at times, and I would often feel discouraged at my inability to ever achieve this “ideal day” I craved. I tried eliminating things from my life, but every time I did, I seemed to replace it with something else. I wanted to just run at a slow, easy pace, but it seemed that somebody kept pushing the buttons on the treadmill, increasing my pace to the point that it felt like too much. And then it would be too much. Fatigue would set in, and I would have a melt-down.
And then my thinking started to change. Did I really want that elusive life? Would living my life at a pace of comfort and ease (what I have been wanting to attain for years) help me grow and progress as a person? Or would learning how to live at a challenging but sustainable pace actually be better for me? What if I treated my life more like a tempo run? What if I was intentional about the pace, rather than a victim to it? Could I actually get better at living life? Could I change and evolve, rather than staying stagnant? Now, I am not suggesting that we don’t need a break sometimes. I don’t tempo run every day. Rest and recovery is vital if we want to perform well in running, and in life. But the difference now, is that I am intentional about my self-care, rather than hoping to someday be allowed to do it—once I finish all my work.
The past few months have been amazing for me! I am doing more, serving more, loving more, and living better than I have for a long time—maybe better than I ever have. I am being intentional about what I spend my time on. I am learning to schedule and prioritize better. I have days, and even weeks, that in the past would have put me over my threshold. And now, I can sustain. I am improving at living my life.
Recently, I read this quote by Brooke Castillo. I wrote it down and have reflected on it often. “What you are doing today may not end up being what you stay with long term, but you will have learned how to live life in your highest gear.” I love this so much! I’m not exactly sure where my journey will lead. But I do know one thing: I have one life to live, and I want to live it in my highest gear. And the key to living that way is all in my THINKING. How are your thoughts affecting the way you live each day? In your mind you possess the power to grow, change, become the next version of yourself, and live your best life. Are you tapping into that power?
This morning, as I was not just running, but improving my threshold, I did what I typically do during a tempo run. I was focusing on the things that will help me keep my pace, like my form, breathing, and cadence. But I was also noticing the beauty around me and I was singing a song (not out loud, of course! I have to breathe!!). I like to mentally sing as I run. How can a run be bad when you are running to the beat of “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning?” And as I was doing this, I realized that living life in my highest gear could be even sweeter if I take the time to notice the beauty around me and sing as I go.
There will bad runs. There will be bad days. There will be discomfort and sometimes I will doubt my ability to keep it up. Sometimes I will run too fast and experience fatigue that will slow me down, or even stop me completely. But that’s where I learn where that line is. That’s where I discover my sweet spot–that place at the edge that will help me grow. Grow as a runner, grow as a person, and grow into my best self. All by choice, and all out of love.
Love your body, and your body will love you. ♥